In the logisitic regression chapter of "Data Analysis Using Regression and Multilevel/Hierarchical Models" by Gelman and Hill, The "Divide by 4" rule is presented to approximate average marginal effects.

"Divide by 4 rule"

Essentially, dividing the estimated log-odds ratio gives the maximum slope (or the maximum change in probabilities) of the logistic function. Logistic function

Since the text above states that the "divide by 4 rule" gives the maximum change in $P(y=1)$ with a unit change in x, why is the estimated 8% less than the 13% calculated from actually taking the derivative of the logistic function in the example given?

Does the "divide by 4 rule" actually give the upper bound marginal effect?

Other "divide by 4" resources:

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Your question seems to come down to asking why the maximum slope of the logistic function occurs at $x=0.$ Is that really what you are after? $\endgroup$
    – whuber
    Jul 3, 2019 at 19:11
  • $\begingroup$ @whuber I think they understand that part... I think they are asking why the estimated maximum marginal effect is beta/4 = 0.08 yet the text suggests that the actual derivative = 0.13. $\endgroup$
    – Emma Jean
    Jul 3, 2019 at 19:14
  • $\begingroup$ @whuber I guess I'm trying to reconcile the explanation with the example in the text. It looks like the number given by the rule of 4 (8%) is not the maximum because it is smaller than the 13% calculated by taking the derivative. $\endgroup$ Jul 3, 2019 at 19:15
  • $\begingroup$ Isn't that the very meaning of maximum: everything else is smaller?? $\endgroup$
    – whuber
    Jul 3, 2019 at 19:40
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I see what you are saying--I misread the quotation. $\endgroup$
    – whuber
    Jul 3, 2019 at 21:36

2 Answers 2


I think it's a typo.

The derivative of the logistic curve with respect to $x$ is: $$ \frac{\beta\mathrm{e}^{\alpha + \beta x}}{\left(1 + \mathrm{e}^{\alpha + \beta x}\right)^{2}} $$

So for their example where $\alpha = -1.40, \beta = 0.33$ it is: $$ \frac{0.33\mathrm{e}^{-1.40 + 0.33 x}}{\left(1 + \mathrm{e}^{-1.40 + 0.33 x}\right)^{2}} $$ Evaluated at the mean $\bar{x}=3.1$ gives: $$ \frac{0.33\mathrm{e}^{-1.40 + 0.33 \cdot 3.1}}{\left(1 + \mathrm{e}^{-1.40 + 0.33\cdot 3.1}\right)^{2}} = 0.0796367 $$ This result is very close to the maximum slope of $0.33/4 = 0.0825$ which is attained at $x=-\frac{\alpha}{\beta}=4.24$, supporting their claim.

On page 82, they write


But $0.33\mathrm{e}^{-0.39}/\left(1+\mathrm{e}^{-0.39}\right)^{2}\neq 0.13$. Instead, it's around $0.08$, as shown above.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Cool. I think you're right. That makes a lot more sense. I wonder if it has been corrected in a newer edition. $\endgroup$ Jul 8, 2019 at 19:57

For a continuous variable $x$, the marginal effect of $x$ in a logit model is

$$\Lambda(\alpha + \beta x)\cdot \left[1-\Lambda(\alpha + \beta x)\right]\cdot\beta = p \cdot (1 - p) \cdot \beta,$$ where the inverse logit function $\Lambda$ is $$\Lambda(z)=\frac{\exp{z}}{1+\exp{z}}.$$

Here $p$ is a probability, so the factor $p\cdot (1-p)$ is maximized when $p=0.5$ at $0.25$, which is where the $\frac{1}{4}$ comes from. Multiplying by the coefficient gives you the upper bound on the marginal effect. Here it is

$$0.25\cdot0.33 =0.0825.$$

Calculating the marginal effect at the mean income yields,

$$\mathbf{invlogit}(-1.40 + 0.33 \cdot 3.1)\cdot \left(1-\mathbf{invlogit}(-1.40 + 0.33 \cdot3.1)\right)\cdot 0.33 = 0.07963666$$

These are pretty close, with the approximate maximum marginal effect bounding the marginal effect at the mean.


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